Somewhat relating to our earlier post on virtual health, this week’s post is designed to highlight the topic of preventative care, and how your Primary Care Physician’s (PCP) role relates to your overall plan of health. To begin with, a PCP (sometimes referred to as a General Practitioner or “family doctor”) is a medical doctor that specializes in general medicine for adults. They perform routine physical exams, other types of general preventative practices, and they’re often the first line of defense, so to speak, when it comes to any sort of health-related issue you may have. Although a PCP is, by definition, a physician, the role of “general health professional” can be filled by Nurse Practitioners and Physician Assistants- a trend that has become increasingly common. Though not doctors, they are nonetheless highly trained and educated health professionals, and you can feel secure in the knowledge that they can provide the same level of care as a physician, and often practice in conjunction with a physician.
It’s generally recommended that healthy individuals under the age of 50 visit their PCP, once every three years- after 50, this should increase to once every year. With that said, some insurance plans often require you to go once a year, and many plans require you to get a referral from your PCP before going to a specialist, if you need more specific care. Specialists, like Neurologists and Cardiologists, are highly trained in a particular area of medicine, and they’re equipped to handle complex, rare, or otherwise specific health issues that PCPs may not be trained for. That’s not to say that PCPs aren’t well trained, but the human body is incredibly complex, and there are so many different illnesses that it’s impossible for one person to know every aspect of modern medicine. PCPs can (and do) diagnose health issues, but they will refer you to a specialist if they feel it necessary. Sometimes, they may give you a general diagnosis if they’re unsure of what exactly is wrong, but you will likely receive a more definitive diagnosis from the specialist- if you don't know of any specialists, your PCP will guide you in the right direction.
Due to hundreds of different health insurance plans available in the US, it’s important to note that different plans have different requirements, and it’s wise to try to familiarize yourself with the various benefits and costs of your individual plan. Though it may not be necessary from a health standpoint to see your PCP regularly, it may be more difficult to seek specialized treatment if you haven’t seen your PCP in a while. Next week, we’ll take a deeper dive into specialized medicine, and give you a snapshot of what their roles entail.